St Barbara was the daughter of a rich man who kept her hidden from the outside world, locked inside a tower.
Iniala Harbour House, perched on Valletta’s St Barbara Bastions, is also the offspring of a wealthy man. And he too has been keeping his labour of love hidden from the public.
Thankfully, however, the immediately-iconic hotel has finally been unveiled. (It officially opens on November 6th but the press got to enjoy a soft launch last week.)
And even though it may sound like an inauspicious time for an opening, Iniala is actually just what Malta’s tourism industry needs.
It’s a luxury hotel, with what will eventually be 23 immaculately-designed suites spread over several historic buildings overlooking what is, hands down, Malta’s most beautiful harbour view.
Just as the island was forced to rethink its all-you-can-eat tourism strategy and start focusing on quality tourism, Iniala presents itself as the epitome of luxury. And it’s the perfect hideout for a Covid-getaway.
The rooms (more like apartments) are works of art. Whether it’s Ritty Tacsum’s wallpaper take on the Trident Fountain or the majestically double-height ceilings of the Grand Residence – or the two hot tubs in the enormous €3,000-a-night penthouse – each corner of this hotel speaks to its owner’s passion and attention to detail.
Iniala is the brainchild of Mark Weingard who was born in Manchester and made his fortune as a “wanker banker” only to have several incidents change his outlook on life and eventually lead him to Malta.
He was late for a meeting at the World Trade Centre on the tragic morning of September 11th. Barely a year later, his fiancée was killed in the Bali bombings. And two years after that, he found himself on a beach in Thailand, where he survived the 2004 tsunami.
And while this imagineer may have a crazy story, a quirky personality and an eclectic fashion sense, his hotel is the definition of refined, with only a light touch of whimsical. With stoney shades of neutral colours, the interior is an ode to its limestone bastion surroundings. It’s nowhere near as adventurous as his other hotel in Thailand, which the Kardashians and many other A-listers have enjoyed. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth writing home about. It absolutely is.
It’s almost as if Weingard spent his youth harbour-watching from the ledge of the bastions because the hotel feels like it has been designed to elevate that very experience.
And the best example of this is the rooftop restaurant Ion, which is undoubtedly the next Maltese restaurant tipped for a Michelin star or three.
The food is as imaginative as the setting is peaceful. From the smoothest cauliflower soup with drops of coffee syrup, to a pear and bream starter swimming in seaweed broth – it’s a true delight for the senses, served by outstanding service professionals, all dressed in beautiful Carla Grima outfits.
Breakfast – which is open to the public – is also exquisitely luxurious, with an almost infinite list of tapas and main items ranging from bacon maple syrup waffles to the fanciest (and tastiest) egg salad you will ever try.
The best part? Breakfast is served till 2pm.
“Because why the hell not? You shouldn’t be rushed to wake up for breakfast,” says Weingard.
This 54-year-old is probably the most well-travelled person in Malta. Last year alone he flew some 180 times. He once started a business aimed at disrupting the hotel rating system of stars, in favour of something more internationally measurable.
“I’ve spent my entire life visiting hotels and thinking of how to make them better. And what I’ve built here is what I believe to be the best hotel experience in the world,” he says, brimming with pride.
To be fair, he might be right.
The hotel gym is a great example of his quest for perfection.
It’s a 200-square metre gym filled with the absolutely top-of-the-range equipment. From machines that automatically tailor themselves to the user’s natural resistance to a rowing machine that pulls real water – it really is hard to imagine any hotel equipped like this, let alone a boutique hotel in Valletta.
The spa is not yet finished, but you can only imagine what it would look like once Weingard has his way.
Whether it’s the gorgeous wine vault and the wine tasting sessions by the Danish sommelier or the intimate harbour cruises offered by the hotel – or the remote-controlled toilets made famous in Japan, this is a hotel that everybody should get to experience at least once in their lives.
Would you like to visit Iniala?